There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
To begin with, it's almost jawdropping to see a journalist actually interview someone, as in ask hard questions. Netanyahu (who is technically a member of the opposition) was asked if he supported Olmert's military and political strategies and gave a well-spun answer about wanting Hizb Allah destroyed. The BBC journalist then continued to ask him to answer the question posed, with Netanyahu eventually saying that any critical comments on his part would be given to Olmert in private.
I think Netanyahu is putting a neocon spin on this war but that its NOT going according to his wishes. Netanyahu seemed angry at being questioned so shrewdly but in essence he stuck to the message he came to give to the British people: Iran, Iran, Iran and Iran is to blame for everything. My other interpretation of what Netanyahu was expressing is that he seems angry that the fighting may come to an end (with the arrival of the international troops of whatever source) and indeed he stated that if Israel doesn't crush Hizb Allah this time, they will next time.
Later today I saw Hassan Nasrullah (leader of Hizb Allah) give a very long televised speech. The outlet I saw this on was the American satellite broadcast of the LBC but I believe the original footage may have come from Hizb Allah's own television station in Lebanon (although I'm not sure about that). Unfortunately I don't know where the transcript of this or any of his previous speeches can be found on the internet.
I realize sometimes its hard to distinguish different Middle Eastern leaders from another, especially the bearded clerics who are leaders of an Islamic guerilla/terrorist group. Let me tell you that Nasrallah spoke (and this seems to be typical for him) in a fairly unemotional way. There wasn't any yelling or pounding of fists. Furthermore there was a complete lack of hateful rhetoric, none of the "wiping all Jews off the map" kind of thing. Indeed Nasrallah stated several times that as soon as Israel stopped fighting and withdrew from Lebanon, all attacks by Hizb Allah would immediately cease.
From what I've read and seen of Nasrallah, he is an extremely intelligent man and is someone who reads and researches quite a lot. His message (broadcast worldwide including via the internet) was clearly designed to appeal to the pan-Arab, pan-Muslim world (actually to just about everybody). Nasrallah clearly put the blame foremost on the Bush administration for all of the fighting. He also essentially told the pro-American Arab leaders to be a man "for at least one day" and condemn Israel's actions. One tidbit from that speech I did see in other media reports was Nasrallah's measured promise to strike Tel Aviv if Israel hits Beirut (which apparently Israel has already done). One tidbit I didn't see otherwise reported was Nasrallah stating that Israel's sort of weird, failed military operation in the Lebanese city of Baalbek was a snatch-and-grab of a completely innocent man whose sole "crime" was that his NAME is either Hassan Nasrullah or extremely similar to that.
In other words, the Israelis sent in a commando team and picked up a Hassan Nasrullah but it was completely the wrong guy. The real Hizb leader was taunting the Israelis for their intelligence failure but I recall that the same exact thing happened to another Lebanese man in 2003 (only in that case the mighty CIA was the one who goofed).
Nasrallah also taunted Olmert and said he was the "most incompetent and ignorant" Prime Minister that Israel has ever had. Oooh, zinger! The reason why this has got to sting is that so far Olmert is proving Nasrallah right. Nasrallah raised several valid points which, if one were cold-blooded and viewed war as a sport, would all be awarded to Hizb Allah:
1) Olmert did state that Hizb Allah's military capacity was almost completely destroyed - then later the same day and the next day, the number of rockets raining on Israel dramatically increased;
2) Israel stated on several successive days that it had captured or was controlling Bint Jbeil - later they were forced to admit they had only surrounded it and were still engaged in heavy fighting;
3) Israel has killed far more civilians (and non-combatant UN observers) than has Hizb Allah despite the fact that Hizb's rockets are unguided while Israel is supposedly only hitting valid targets;
4) Despite the Merkava tanks and advanced armor of the Israeli ground forces, somehow Hizb Allah has found a way to blow them up. This is a big part of the reason why the ground assault has done so poorly;
5) Hizb Allah either sank or almost sank an Israeli naval vessel off the coast of Lebanon, which Israel initially denied and then later had to admit had occurred;
I should also mention here that Nasrallah made absolutely zero mention of Iran or any kind of "long live the Shi'ites". Instead he repeatedly stated that all the Lebanese people were one and that Christians and Muslims should be united. I'm just stating this here for the record by the way, not as some pro-Hizb endorsement. By the way if you can't afford or can't receive the extensive cable/satellite system necessary to view the BBC or LBC or those other channels with the real news, I think you can view a most of them on the internet if you've got a fairly good computer and a high speed connection.
Now as for Israel's overall strategy, there seems to be two schools of thought in play amongst bloggers and the American mainstream media.
1) Israel's bombing of infrastructure and hospitals etc., is a calculated move designed to destabilize Lebanon, get international (and possibly American) troops involved, as part of a larger neocon strategy that was earlier worked out in secret between Cheney and Netanyahu; or
2) Israel is the victim, first when 2 of its soldiers were kidnapped and later when hundreds/thousands of rockets began raining down on civilians in northern Israel. Israel has the right/need to defend itself and that includes destroying Hizb Allah, which is a certified terrorist organization.
Quite frankly I don't think either of these is exactly right. I understand where this is coming from, but Israel's governments since day 1 have had a kind of non-evolving strategy that has now become frozen and non-adaptive. In 1948, when the Jewish minority declared the independence of Israel, the nation was almost wiped out by a combined (but hideously inept) invasion by all of its neighbors. Israel just barely managed to "win" that war (as if wars were games and there are ever any real winners) and the mentality ever since has been "one slip up and our enemies will wipe us out". It's a deadly combination of righteous victimhood and hyper-aggressive, offensive military against any and all perceived threats. Again, I understand how this way of thinking developed, but it has ceased to evolve over time and is in danger of destroying Israel right as we speak.
That's because Israel's strategy is a "one trick pony" = one defeat and it is over. Israel has caused and/or permitted the entire Middle East (and the entire world apart from the USA) to polarize and harden its views to the point today where it is difficult to find any ordinary citizen on the street to have a positive image of Israel in any way, shape or form.
This is a result of two complimentary systems. One is Israel's perceived victimhood and that it must arm every grandma to the teeth or else it will be overwhelmed by a sea of hostile neighbors. Feeding into that and bolstering it is the fact that the Arab (and Iranian) governments are heavily repressive of their own people, but use the plight of the Palestinians and an inflammation of anti-Semite/anti-Zionist sentiment to get away with their policies. Israel (rightly) always points to how many millions of Palestinians live in Arab countries, including Lebanon, forced to huddle inside squalid refugee camps and denied citizenship.
These two systems are self-stoking - they feed on one another parasitically. Iran or Syria or Hizb Allah will make anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli statements. Israel will say, "see? they all hate us and want to destroy us". And therefore Israel feels forced to militarily dominate and intimidate both its internal Arab population as well as that of its neighbors. Which then adds fuel to the repressive governments of Egypt or Iran saying, "see how they are? They are the enemy!" and lather, rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
So about 3 weeks ago, Hizb Allah did exactly what it told the entire world it would do: capture Israeli soldiers (ahem, not civilians) alive (in Israel) precisely so they could be exchanged for Lebanese citizens (some of which are civilians, ahem) captured by Israel (on Lebanese soil). There was no shock or "escalation" here. The shock came from the fact that a pursuing Israeli Merkava tank was blown up by Hizb Allah (on Lebanese soil) and the entire 6-man crew was killed.
Since Israel has maintained a policy of "we can't lose, not even once", the combination of 2 soldiers kidnapped AND 1 tank destroyed meant an overwhelming military response was now in order. So far, this was an entirely predictable response from Israel. If they had poured ground troops into southern Lebanon and/or dropped bombs/missiles on Hizb Allah targets in the south, it would've been more of the "same old, same old". But they didn't. Somehow, some way, Olmert was convinced into authorizing general strikes against ALL of Lebanon, including purely civilian targets like bridges and power plants. This is where I get completely confused.
I've seen some talking heads in the American media saying that Israel fell for the "Chalabi Gambit", somehow being misled into thinking a general invasion of Lebanon would unite the Druze, Christians and Sunnis against Hezb Allah. But I don't believe it - there's not a Middle Eastern politician alive, Turkish, Kurdish, Sunni or otherwise who would get more mileage out of being pro-Israel AND against a domestic organization than being anti-Israel. No way do I believe it - Israeli leaders believe every Arab is out to get them.
Why did Israel do it, then? Why attack hospitals and civilian residential blocks in Qana and UN outposts? Why do this when it not only crystallized the Middle Eastern/Muslim world against Israel but it is also sapping Israel's support amongst ordinary Americans?
After 50 some years of outfoxing and outflanking its opponents, there's a belief that Israel's leadership is nearly invincible. That if Israel does something it must somehow be part of their calculated strategy to survive and thrive. But in this case I think Israel is NOT acting upon some strategy but RE-ACTING. Someone's blood got to boiling and they began issuing orders that weren't thought out and gameplayed by cooler heads first. Somebody ordered the Israeli military to hurt Lebanon and that's why it's been hitting those easy targets like bridges and power plants.
In my mind I get the image of someone pouting and screaming in frustration, pounding their fists and demanding to hit Lebanon anywhere and everywhere because they are absolutely driven mad with frustration because they cannot 1) stop Hizb Allah rockets, 2) rescue their soldiers and 3) conduct a blitzkrieg, "normal style" ground campaign using heavy armor.
Right now I believe that "someone" is Olmert himself although I may be wrong. It may be that this "someone" is egging on Olmert or whispering in his ear. Either way, it is pushing Israel to the brink because it literally cannot afford to lose this war. By "lose" I don't mean Hizb Allah marching into Jerusalem, I mean "lose" in the sense of a boxer losing a title fight on the points, rather than a more dramatic knockout.
I'm quite afraid that desperate men will commit desperate acts, and that Israel will do something even more stupid if it feels like it has lost too much "face" vis-a-vis Hizb Allah. But I shall pray and hope that someone, somewhere, in either DC or Tel Aviv, can find a sane path out of this forest of insanity.